Electronische kinder

Friday, 3 April, 2020 - 3:55 am

On Wednesday morning Natan began to put on Tefillin. Acting according to the Chabad custom to begin to put on Tefillin two months before the bar mitzvah, we invited our friends to connect via Zoom and to mark the date with us.

Natan put on Tefillin, said a ma’amar, drank a bit of L’chaim and even sang to us solo.

The original plan was that we would do this “by the Rebbe”, and that it will be there that he will put on Tefillin for the first time, say by heart the Chassidic passage that explains that Hashem also wears Tefillin in His own way: He ties himself to us every morning when we tie ourselves to Him. But then the Corona showed up and kept us all home.

Among the participants was my good friend, Rabbi Asher Krichevsky, and he said – in his special style – “Pardon me; I saw Natan and you too, but most of the time I just looked at your parents squeezed into a small and distant smartphone camera.”

For some reason Asher was very moved to see a grandmother and grandfather celebrating that way, via camera, and he immediately took me back in his comment to my father’s description R. Mendel Futerfas z”l entering the Wishedski home in Czernovitz of the late 1950’s and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, closing his eyes and singing loudly, straight from the heart of a loving father, the Yiddish song “Papierene Kinder.”

R. Mendel was a legend. Even then, among many chassidim who were endangering lives for the sake of Judaism, he was a model and symbol of courage and inner power, devotion and sticking to the goal. His wife and children had left Russia and he had stayed behind in order to continue to keep the spark going. He paid a heavy price for deciding to remain behind the Iron Curtain: He was caught and sent to ten years of incarceration and torture in Siberia, and when he was released after Stalin’s death, he spent another ten years behind the Iron Curtain, far from his wife and children.

He had pictures of the children, and when he would think of them he would sing “Papierene kinder hab ich, papier iz gevern von mein blut un mein fleisch” – I have children made of paper, my flesh and blood have become paper.

He knew that they were happy where they were, and that it was good that his children had left Russia. It was also good that he had stayed behind, because he had to act for the sake of the persecuted Judaism. The head understood that it is good this way, but the heart burst with longing, and it is from this position he cried out: “Oy, getenyu zisser, hab rachmanus oif mir, ich vill meine kinder nicht kein shtickel papier” – Oh, my beloved G-d, have mercy on me. I want my children and not a piece of paper.

My good friend Asher reminded me of this description not only because my parents were there, far and close at the same time, but also because some of my children who had remained in Israel were there – so close and yet far. They are not papierene kinder, but electronische kinder. We, and everyone, have electronic children. I am such to my parents and my children are as such to me. And in these turbulent times hundreds and thousands can see and hear their children and their parents only through electronic devices.

We too miss our children at times, and as the days go by and the holidays are upon us, the longing gets stronger and the heart trembles. I remember R. Mendel how he did not hide his longing, did not repress his pain. But rather he gave it room; in fact he cried it out loudly.

I too wish now to call out to the Alm-ghty: Avinu malkenu, mena magefa minachalatecha. Avinu malkenu, shlach refuah sheleimah l’cholei amecha. Our father, our King, withhold the plague from your heritage, Our father, our King, send complete recovery to the sick of Your people. Pesach is coming and this is the time to fulfill the passuk, “And Hashem will pass over the entrance and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your homes to smite.”


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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